The Ultimate Driving Machine: A Day On the Set of a BMW Commercial

“YOU’RE IN THE SOAK ZONE,” a production assistant warns, as a water truck sprays down Montgomery Street – creating a beautiful cinematic surface glow. Residents peer out windows, waiting for the action to begin. It’s one of those picture-perfect San Francisco days – like the kind you see in a car commercial. Crisp and clear; the mighty Bay Bridge looms in the background of the rolling hills. Police hold back traffic as curious onlookers gather along the sidewalks.

“How do you feel, having your house featured in a TV commercial,” I ask an elderly Asian woman who lives on the block. “Good,” she says with a laugh. “They should pay me. I’ll take the BMW, how about that?”

Good Answer. There’s only one star of this commercial shoot and that’s ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine.’

“Camera ready! Roll tape! Action!”

A glossy red BMW 328i soars down a picturesque hill in North Beach. The camera vehicle, a black Porsche Cayenne Turbo manned by a trio of gung-ho camera-cowboys, drives mere feet in front of the BMW and captures the action. With a precision driving maneuver, the BMW sharply turns left onto Vallejo Street, practically emoting personality as the stunt driver puts extra “umph” into the action.

This three-day commercial shoot is part of the campaign to launch the new 3 Series in mid-February. In the world of BMW, this is a monumental event as the 3 Series experiences a complete overhaul like this only every seven years.

KBS+P, the agency that produced the innovative 2011 Super Bowl commercial, “Changes,” has developed the spot filming around the Bay Area this weekend – highlighting BMW’s beloved heritage.

“Our goal was to breathe new life into one of the most famous taglines of all time,” says DJ Pierce, Executive Creative Director at KBS+P. “The goal of the spot is to give BMW its swagger back and retake its rightful claims,” Pierce says. “We want to give fans something they’re psyched about.”

The crew has been filming The Ultimate Driving Machine navigating through different environments. In the spot, the 328i starts out in a residential area, drives through the city, traverses across the mountains, and finally whirls past the majestic Redwoods. The takeaway: With 36 miles per gallon highway, a BMW enthusiast will spend more time driving and less time at gas stations.

“In 1971, the iconic sports sedan craze began,” says Pierce. “I was a kid in that car and I had a lot of fun. My mom was a badass driving that car,” Pierce adds with a laugh. “The 328i is in that direct lineage.”


In the afternoon, the crew shoots the 328i zipping through urban areas as the production moves from North Beach to Leidersdoft Alley in the Financial District. Discussion is afoot with the production team setting up a scene outside a café.

“Is there anyway to put the slider here so the car is in the full shot?”

“We’ll start with the full shot and we’ll do the overhead last.”

The Shelly Ward prep team is equipping the 328i with a long camera arm rig called the “Gravity Slider.” Overseeing the operation is Mike Johnson – a 20-year vet who knows his way around BMWs; he just handled driving stunts alongside Tom Cruise for the upcoming Mission Impossible 4 movie.

“He actually has a very good feel for the car and is probably in the top 5% of drivers,” Johnson says about the MI star’s driving proclivities. “He’s fun to work with because of that aspect.” In his off hours, Johnson drives a BMW X6. “I’m pretty much a fan,” he says, while waiting for his next setup. “The big thing is how well-balanced the vehicles are. (Pause.) The only negative thing I can say about BMWs – they’re too good!”

“Stand by for shot! Lock it up please,” hollers the director. “Roll cameras! Action!”

With the Gravity Slider in place, the camera rolls – capturing the POV of the 328i’s wheel. With Mission Impossible-style driving, the vehicle traverses through the watered-down alley street. The 328i hits a puddle. A collective “Aaah!” is let out by the creative team watching from the monitors.

“My big scene is coming up,” says the principal actor, who exudes the attributes of the archetype BMW driver; smart, neat, with a sporty twinkle in his eye. He’ll drive the 328i down California Street, while the camera in the back seat shoots over his shoulder and captures his shifting ability.

“Reset again!” yells the assistant director after the 4th take. A stunt driver is brought in to replace the actor and nail the tricky shifting move.

“Can I see your hands please,” asks the assistant director as the makeup woman moisturizes his fingers and palms.

The 328i is wiped down for the final shot. The stunt driver takes position behind the wheel.

“Camera ready! Roll tape! Action!”

At the last second, the stunt driver spins the BMW out on California Street in a full 180 donut. It’s something right out of The Fast and The Furious.


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